Intervals – The Space Between – 3.5/5
It's no secret that over the past few years we've seen a dramatic rise in the proficiency of musicians, seeming to sprout out of nowhere from the depths of obscurity and demonstrating a level of competency that used to be reserved for the virtuoso's who'd spent half their lives dedicated to perfecting their craft. “Intervals,” are another example of precisely such a band; these Canadian newcomers offering this 20 minute work for free as a means to promote themselves and indeed, that's largely how I came about it, and at first it's pretty hard not to be at least mildly impressed by the wealthy of talent on display, particularly where the guitars become concerned.
The problem I have here has nothing to do with competency, but as technical proficiency has improved there is an ever growing concern that it's taken over too much of the focus, with the actual song compositions coming second fiddle. Arguably “Behold... the Arctopus” reign supreme where what's being played matters less than playing it quickly, but I can't help but get much the same impression when listening to this, though by no means anywhere near to that extent. There's remarkably little 'down time;' bearing many similarities to “Animals as Leaders,” what element they have that's amiss here is a break from the speed for something atmospheric and melodic; something catchy that manages to sink itself into your mind. There are some synths tossed around but it never really feels like anything substantial; it never feels the sci-fi element they occasionally hint at has any real core purpose, and when breakdowns occur it plays off a little like a bad Meshuggah off cut, monotonously droning on and dragging it all out until something of note actually happens. It all just gets a bit repetitive.
Particularly when there are no vocals involved, as is the case here, the music's composition has to be filled with purpose; it needs an atmosphere to promote as in “Chimp Spanner's” work; a sense of emotion or an effective line that draws the listener in. Vocals typically do an excellent job at evoking the human part of us and engage us with the music, and without them they need to pay careful attention to making sure the rest of the band is up to scratch, which strangely enough they do seem to eventually figure out. The finalé, 'Inertia,' opening up with a gentle melody that proves that when they slow things down a bit, they aren't half bad, successfully managing to find a balance between all the instruments; the complex guitar work (and not just djent riffs), technical but never jarring drumming and the synth work in the background, though it still kicks its heels and aimless bumbles along around the mid point. Before this emerged I'd have said they were a band that arrived late to the scene and added nothing new, but if they can manage to build on this then 'Intervals' may definitely be a band to watch out for in the near future.
Over the years this has grown into my own personal project, reviewing the artists that I discover and interest me. If you wish to see more of my work, particularly my more metal-orientated material, you can find me as a regular contributor for the online magazine
Russian Circles - Empros - 5/5
The pure energy and the miasma of emotions of masterfully composed instrumental music. If anyone is even remotely familiar with the work of Russian Circles’ work then they can testify that this band is no stranger to achieving brilliance in its compositions. And although many fans are complaining about their latest offering being not as masterful as their much acclaimed “Enter,” I believe these guys have just hit another zenith of musical expression with this album.
Don’t ask me to categorize their sound into a genre, probably the term of Post metal fits them for now but hardly do they play it with orthodoxy which - unsurprisingly - is their greatest strength. Churning out typhoon like roaring riffs alongside hammering drums and then fusing them oh so sweetly with atmospheric ambient passages has always been their forté but they do use that ability of their with much more diversity this time around. What really impresses me is their use of the bass in their heavy passages which despite the loud character of the guitars still manages to hold a pretty tight hold on the listener. There are plenty of post rock elements on display here as well though they don’t use them as extensively as they did on "Enter" which creates a much more sprawling atmosphere for their music. Don’t let that fool you though; there is enough power and emotion in the composition to let it crush you.
And as I said raw power intelligently portrayed is not the only feature of this work, if anything most of the tracks move like curves speeding up in the tempo, the loudness and the harshness at will. But no matter which direction the music moves in, the transition feels perfectly natural, not a note out of place, not an instrument trying to outshine the other. The softer moments of this album are shaped mostly around baroque like piano pieces and some mesmerizing acoustic guitar work to go with it but that description doesn’t do it justice for it combines plenty of other strange sound effects to make up the atmosphere of the album. The drumming is another impressive feature of this album, bombastic, coherent and yet none too complex for the listener. Not only does the drummer vary his pace intelligently but uses the drums to effectively darken or just energize the atmosphere, bear in mind usually I credit the pianos or the guitars for doing that.
At the end of it I may have rambled on and on and still I don’t think I have done justice in describing this album. What this work carries is just about everything in music, paying tribute to every form of emotion. Try not to worry about genres or “Enter” and just give this one a whirl.
Thy Catafalque – Rengeteg – 5/5
If you tried to name many Hungarian bands – let alone metal bands – it wouldn't surprise me if you came up at something of a loss. They don't seem to have the greatest of international presences within musical circles, at least since the days of Classical composers reigned supreme, but this is one band whose name should at least be on the tip of your tongue. Each new release sees him straying further from his blackened origins – this “band” is really just the genius vision of one man, Tamás Kátai, who performs all the instruments – and stepping deeper into the fantastical world of the Avant-Garde, but this isn't a band to bombard you with new elements every time the wind blows. Maybe they took their cues from their more experimental classical history (Hungarian composers had a habit of infusing elements of folk into their compositions), but every progression they've made up until this point has been nothing but perfectly natural, and so now that they've now come to a point in the musical abyss where the music is nigh on indescribable is to say nothing bad about the tone they've carved from themselves. It's unique and not quite like anything that came before it; it's like waking up and discovering that there's a whole new colour in the world you've never seen before, and it's nothing short of breathtaking to behold.
It certainly takes certain cues from metal – this is after all where they originated from – icy blackened growls make themselves known, the occasional blast beat and slow plodding death/doom riffs power along, though to call this a common occurrence or major feature to their sound isn't quite true. Rather the last consistent vestige that they have kept alluding to their black metal origins is the atmosphere, but even that doesn't feel the same any more. It's dark and brooding and not entirely unlike Agalloch in the manner it makes heavy use of folk tones to create a sense of nature in the music, never in a rush to make their point, or feeling no real need to race off at a blistering pace to make this bleak presence known. Clean vocals lend a theatrical, at times emotive and almost operatic quality whilst at others simply sounding simplistic and natural, lending an earthen, comforting folk like quality which despite being sung entirely in his native tongue is never anything less than inspiring.
There's a lot more to it than just this though, psychedelic effects in particular becoming an integral component to their sound. They make heavy use of electronic elements throughout the course of the album but it always contains a retro 70s vibe to it; a warbling, almost jazz inspired mellotron or organ like quality that complements the twanging guitars, playing basic but insatiably addictive melodies that too are simply dripping in psychedelia. Behind all this, what is usually considered the rhythmic section is no less important in creating their progressive compositions – progressive in that both individual tracks, and indeed the album as a whole, flows and changes emphasising the subtle changes found in the natural world rather than to further a more specific concept or story. The rhythm guitars hold a stark contrasting bass laden, oft 'death metal' tone that lends a sense of aggression or foreboding doom that the music might require, and the drum work, far from getting caught up in a habit of playing blast beats, take a lot of inspiration from jazz drumming and it's philosophy of making sure that you never play the same beat for more than a few seconds before breaking into some sort of fill, ever changing and despite being entirely programmed can often find itself being one of the most stellar musical presences.
There are a lot of elements that can be said to have gone into fabricated this piece but don't go mistaking it for inaccessible or trying to include multiple genres for the sole purpose of sounding different; everything comes together so beautifully that it's hard not to be overwhelmed. There is a sense of grandiose majesty in the melodies and atmosphere's it all conjures, and that cover image is more than just for show; that is in a nutshell the atmosphere you'll find within this pre-packaged fantastical musical voyage. Dark and dangerous but also something to be respected and admired; beautiful, magical, mystical, occasionally romantic, often hallucinatory, and filled with wonders we may never come to fully understand. Rengeteg is masterpiece in every sense of the word.
Highlights: Fekete mezők, Vashegyek, Tar Gallyak Végül
Uneven Structure – Februus – 4/5
Expelled through this intense breach
A whole new set of perceptions gives warmth
The cosiness of gestation has come to an end”
So long it requires two discs and largely consisting of Meshuggah-like djent chugging over monotonous rasped vocals; yup, this sounds like everything I should hate. Bopping along like so many other deathcore acts do, screaming like some meat-head punching the air; thinking they have something to say when they really don't – I'm not really selling this very well at the moment am I? The thing is, I don't hate it. At all. When I first heard it I largely ignored it, to the casual glance it's just another band trying to work wonders with an inherently impossible genre to work with and come up smelling like anything other than shit, and yet somehow they've managed to create a concept piece that remarkably is deserving of your time. They may at times sound like party boy's bumping fists but that's only if you don't pay attention. This isn't an album you can just listen to a random track half-heartedly looking for it to jump out at you any more than you would watch a film halfway through and expect to be impressed within the first few minutes. Start at the beginning else don't start at all.
They ease you in gradually, gracing your ears with the finer details of their sound that you should watch out for. Yes, much of it contains djent chugging and deathcore growling but it serves a purpose. That mind-numbing repetition, constant aggressive battering, metaphorically punching the bland walls that surround you until you finally break free from the tyranny it represents, and when you do the result is nothing short of glorious glorious. Clean vocals erupt and ambient passages suddenly rush out in an effigy; atmospheric and powerful, like the first time you've finally seen the light after being buried for so long, over time the abundance of aggression slowly relenting and giving rise to a greater emphasis on the light, slowly dragging yourself up from the pit of despair until you're finally able to break free from it entirely. The emotion is nothing short of liberating, mesmerising; this is an ambient piece in every sense of the word just as much as it is the other, far more obvious and blunt component to their sound, with the entirety of the second disc just being comprised entirely of atmospheric keyboards and electronic work; there are no drums, guitars or vocals in sight, delivering more than half an hour of sweet relief from the torment and struggle that preceded it.
You see, there's far more at play in this 90 minute release than a single quick listen would have you notice. Each track flows seamlessly into the next; the written lyrics which could easily be passed over – and indeed it's a shame they aren't too more easy to discern in the vocal lines themselves, though doing so may well rob it off much of its impact – but they're nothing short of poetic, if perhaps too cryptic to follow closely. There are three guitarists in this line up – not including the bassist – but they all have their roles to play, subtly working in the background to build an atmosphere much in the same way post-rock artists do. You may not be able to overtly tell what they're doing but that is to their credit, their intention was never to be so blunt and obvious as to supply a riff or line but to add to the atmosphere. The rhythm is carried largely by the slow grooves of the bass and the complementing drum work, but simplistic as it often feels, it is all the layers that go on top that make it all work.
I remember thinking that it was curious how the live show had a mosh pit that when the music broke ended up with all the violence being replaced with embrace; it was like nothing like I'd seen before, and yet this is precisely the sensation this music evokes. It shows you at your worst; drowning in depression with no end in sight, in the depths of despair without a hope in the world, fighting back with every ounce of strength and emerging once more triumphant. It's the idea of being quite literally being reborn into a world; of Genesis, creating hope where there was once none. It almost feels religious, the epiphany of an Atheist that a Lord exists and finally seeing the light. It can be interpreted in many ways but what's undeniable is that there is a strength and emotion here that betrays their exterior shell; it's abrasive nature is merely a means to an end. It may not reach the heights reached by Chimp Spanner or Tesseract, but that's not to say it isn't impressive in its own unique way.
Ram-Zet - Neutralized - 4.5/5
You'd think with my love of the Avant-Garde that any metal band that feels compelled to name the man responsible for the didgeridoo lines would grab my attention, yet somehow these guys I managed to miss. In case you missed out on this genre, Avant-Garde largely means little more than 'its a little bit weird' metal. Often they're so unique that half-joking long descriptors become the norm, either devised themselves like Alamaailman Vasarat's 'kebab-kosher-traffic-punk-film music,' or by others like my own description of Diapsiquir and their 'Frenchman-on-LSD-Ranting-About-the-Ills-of-Modern-Man' metal. Bringing me pleasantly to the matter of Ram-Zet and their 'anything goes' brand of metal.
The core is undeniably metal, but I mean that in all its vague glory; metal but you can't quite figure out what kind, other than its hard, heavy and makes you want to bang your head. Doom overtones, blackened interludes and neo-classical solo's amidst what only be described as a plethora of flourishes. Taking centre stage are the female vocalist transitioning between the burlesque, almost 'Stolen Babies' lines and perhaps more conventional Nightwish cloned faux-operatic. If nothing more you can consider this a “Gothic” metal band where the band never has nothing to do. Acoustic quasi-flamenco pieces counteract the fuzzy blackened tremolo riffs and Chthonic-esque high pitched growls, doom like slow bass lines and aforementioned shredded solo's mixed up with the occasional jazz fusion noodling. There's tribal atmospheres, 16th century classical lines amidst a very noise rock backing; Meshuggah like djent tones make things sound nice and complex to break out from and show something on the opposite side of the spectrum; “Addict” opens like a Frank Klepacki piece only to evolve and mutate over the course of the next thirty seconds. Like I said, it really is 'anything goes,' and with such a crisp production that allows every element to ring out loud and proud, it becomes more than a little exciting from an album as you never quite know what they'll break out next.
But these influences are fleeting flourishes; sprinkles atop the main dessert to lend it a little flavour, and whilst it does that well, it does little to hide that the meat doesn't always quite live up to those same hopes. Certainly, these flourishes never feel out of context, and are never around for longer than a few moments to really make too much of an issue even if they were, but in order to make so many styles fit the metal being played needs to be fairly accommodating as a result, and as Shakespeare would say, 'there's the rub.' None of the musicians are bad at wielding their weapon but rather the compositions themselves feel somewhat basic at the albums start, merely using metal as a platform for their little diversions; a glue to keep the coherency together. The overarching compositions for each track grows stronger as the album progresses, seeming to lose their inhibitions that prevented them from hurtling headfirst into the next passage and 'embracing the Avant-Garde' as it were, but it takes it's time to get moving. It doesn't invoke a strong sense of atmosphere or aggression until the final half of the album, and it's all remarkably catchy but it still brings up questions on its replayability. Certainly, at first it's exciting, twisting and turning and kicking up new idea's left right and centre, but when you've learnt the track and its diversions, all that's left is a lot of instruments playing rather basic lines. You might not still be listening to it years down the line, but it might take you month's before you learn the tracks well enough to remember what's just around the corner.
Highlights: Beautiful Pain, To Ashes
Dakrya – Crime Scene – 3/5
It never ceases to amaze me how important geographical location can have on determining a band's success, and sadly for these Greeks they find themselves in the wrong country to get their music known; a “Stolen Babies” comparison finds itself more than a little justified, taking a theatrical, gothic, dark cabaret approach to their material that finds itself often sounding a little like a nursery rhyme from hell, evil clowns smiling vindictively as the happy tones bely the overwhelming darkness that occurs in the background. And with the same man responsible for producing Diablo Swing Orchestra's debut you could expect a plethora of alternative instruments to find its way to the forefront, but not enough does in the end; that almost 'Tim Burton's Circus of Horrors' use of xylophones adding it's final touches to the proceedings in the opening track never making itself known throughout the album as it could.
In fact, for all the members it feels as though there's so much wasted talent. It all feels fairly conventional in it's use of guitars and bass forming the main framework, doing little more than supplying a rhythm with flourishes of other elements adding flavour. There's so much more that could be done with the musicians at their disposal, not in the least the fact there are three vocalists, two female and one male, and yet for all the theatrical chaos they could create with overlapping guitar lines, bantering between one another, it is the lead woman that dominates over so much of the proceedings. It's all just a touch bland and too content to sit on their basic compositions; a simple guitar riff breaking off for a basic keyboard riff to maintain a rather thin feeling backing; occasionally they'll transition to something more inspired for a moment but it won't be long before they return right back to the source of the problem.
But after all, my major gripe remains that it feels just a little too much like Stolen Babies; Avant-Garde to me is all about pushing boundaries of convention and coming up with something that no other artist can compare to. That it often feels so similar is a disappointing fact only compensated by the fact that this is the closest thing to a second Stolen Babies album I've come across, and in that respect it doesn't do too bad a job of a more guitar-centric, less schizophrenic interpretation of their Dark Cabaret influenced brand of Avant-Garde. There's nothing specifically wrong with it all, I just can't see myself returning to it any time soon.
Highlights: The Charlatans, Phantasmagoria
Live from the Camden Barfly, Feb 6th 2012
The Algorithm - 3/5
Uneven Structure - 3/5
Chimp Spanner - 3.5/5
Its always a little awkward when you arrive to what sounds like techno. If not for the 'basick' logo you might have thought you were in the wrong place, but as it this one man band proceeds you realise "The Algorithm" fits surprisingly well. Forget those recycled beats from the latest techno album, he samples with a ferocity that ive not heard matched, throwing in reggae and 60s classics like they were normal. When you get over the fact that its a man with a laptop you realise he aint half bad.
As for Uneven Structure, I caught the end of their set on a previous occasion and decided I should see them in full; another mathcore band basick found (seriously, want to follow british mathcore? Just buy anything this label puts out. Its getting silly) ready to rise to prominence. Like ion dissonance and veil of maya, they use deathcore influences with that 'ambient/post-rock' twist this land likes, myself included. But given that this is deathcore, and that it took me 20mins to figure out what half of the four guitarist line up were doing - its subtle but they arent just for show - it all sounds like something I should hate, so its a bit strange that I don't. Theres something about them thats different; to see them play is to join a brotherhood whose only criteria is that you dont mind the music. The scene kid puts his hands in his pockets and shuffles like they always do, next to the blonde woman dancing the night away. Even the mosh pit is bizarre, far from those HxC dancers who watch too many Jackie Chan flicks, as the music breaks you're more likely to be greeted with a loving embrace than a push and a punch. Strangers form lines a dozen strong to headbang in unison and the guitarists are barely able to keep playing for the grin on their faces. Either there's something else in the beer or something in the music, but either way i'm missing something...
And whilst this is the third time i've seen Chimp Spanner perform this is the first time I - or anyone else for that matter - has heard their EP, being released today. Played in its entirety, it certainly sounds promising though i'll leave that for the album review. The basic format remains the same; despite not being talkative (none of the bands were come to think of it) the sheer musicianship is a joy to watch being performed. Ortiz himself taking the centre stage, it is instead the drummer that really caught my eye. Playing with a manic precision complex lines to harmonise with the rest of the music, he's not merely content to leave it at that, rolling the sticks in his fingers and juggling them with every second he has to spare; jumping up and screaming, pointing and displaying an energy the rest of the band fails to match. A treat for fans of well played instruments but a lack of audience interaction keeps them from reaching the upper echelons of showmanship.
Tesseract - One - 4.5/5
Well for those still unfamiliar with this debut effort a long time in the making, perhaps its time you start paying attention. Not just one of the pivotal figures in popularising the 'djent' tone first started by 'Meshuggah' but to the entire mathcore genre as a whole, this is one album that had an awful lot to live up to, and despite the obvious pitfall of any album such a long time in the making, never feels disjointed, as though they'd merely made a patchwork quilt of the best bits they've written over the years. Quite the opposite in fact; this is as much a mathcore effort as it is a progressive rock piece; a marriage of 'Coheed and Cambria' or '3''s use of concept and atmosphere with the style of 'Periphery' or 'Textures,' flowing through each passage effortlessly as though one single entity, simply using the complex dissonance of mathcore to keep the listener on their toes.
The whole genre is occasionally rather offensively referred to as 'real musicians music,' the implication being that it's too complex for your average listener to make sense out of. It's certainly not one without its weight; the frenetic complexity of the instrumentation that often results from the use of polyrhythms, unusual time signatures and alternating tempo's is certainly not something every listener is going to be able to enjoy, needing just a little more sense of a repeatable pattern to make it all stick, but whilst all this requires technical proficiency, the composition itself can often suffer. In fact, given such constraints it's far more difficult to create a catchy and memorable piece, constantly twisting and turning but never failing to implant itself in your mind, yet this is precisely how this album operates. It never baffles you with a flurry of notes, or complexity that requires intense concentration to spot the pattern like some code breaker trying to find the message. Take any instrument on their own and its often not all that complicated.
Instead it has no qualms throwing something new into the works; each time a passage played containing some alteration, be it subtle such as an extra note or snare hit thrown between the usual beat, or as major as instruments not following the same beat pattern (a polyrhythm), just to shake things up and keep you guessing. The tempo never races off at an incomprehensible pace or in too dissonant manner, often sticking to the same basic structure. Its only real sense of complexity arises not from the individual lines but how everything pieces together; each of the four elements - drums, guitars, bass and vocals - complement each other, harmonising in such a way that they all retain a sense of individuality, heard throughout the entire album, yet always working in unison to create an elaborate layered atmosphere, and at the top of it all lies the vocals. Powerful and emotional, he drifts between softly sung lullabies, harrowing growls and everywhere in between at a moments notice; mid-range screams contrasting epic tenor lines and lending a sense of strength that few can match. They had seemingly impossibly high hopes laid before them and yet somehow they've managed to do one better.
Highlights: Concealing Fate: Deception, Eden
Cynic - Carbon Based Anatomy [EP] - 3/5
I suppose I should issue this disclaimer, as writing this I realised it became as much a rant as a review. See, my affiliations with this band have been rocky at best, always seeing them fall short of holding my interest; first discovering their debut 'Focus' at the same time as fellow jazz death metal band 'Atheist,' guess which held my attention. Then came round two, the return with 'Traced in Air' which initially got a lot of negative attention for being so different and not really death metal at all; certainly not what I was expecting and again, quickly fell from my attention. Now I find it time for round three, an EP following the same vein as their more recent effort, combining a sci-fi concept with death metal, jazz, prog and ambient. Apparently.
Personally, I don't hear where the death metal comes in at all. It's about as much death metal as slipknot are (which in case wasn't obvious, they aren't, and if you thought otherwise you can get off my blog). I barely hear any jazz either, and I don't mean because there's no sax solo's or the like, just that there's no jazzy instrumentation; there's none of the light upbeat tone or atmosphere that typifies the genre. We occasionally get a jazzy drum beat - the drumming being one of the few points I have little complaints about, at least when they remember to play - and the odd guitar solo, but it's so intermittent it feels like a fleeting influence. So please, lets stop pretending they've tried to make an odd fusion of styles because it's just ambient rock at its heart. Electronic ambient plus rock. Maybe there's a hint of prog in the song structure and choice of instrumentation, but thats about it.
Tribal elements come and go, elegant vocals that soon disappear and are forgotten so the guitars can twang some chords for a catchy pop hook. It's like a really atmospheric pop/rock album at times, only prevented from sounding like whiny teens by the sci-fi element, the guitars pumping out simplistic melodies over the keyboards used to further promote the atmosphere. It actually reminds me a little of modern post-hardcore emo, though admittedly much of this comes from the vocals ("Drop the knife / The longing never ends / Not whilst you're human" - I mean honestly). You can take that as you like, all I'm saying is perhaps we have more 'I'm not OK' fans than people are willing to admit, but I digress.
All solid concept albums need a solid concept and the idea of aliens is always one I welcome, but whilst they promote this sci-fi feel in what feels like a teaser prologue for the album to come, the emotion that comes twinned with atmosphere feels absent. I don't know if we should fear them, welcome them, or ask them for a game of chess. Perhaps this is intentional, to create an air of mystery and suspense to see how the next album kicks things off properly weaving an epic tale involving our benevolent new alien race, or perhaps not, only time will tell. All I know is it makes this release feel a little unfinished, unresolved, and altogether vague. I mean just run through that title track, the tribal elements clearly setting a scene, perhaps in the amazon rainforest; an alien finds a tribesman and yells 'Oi! Homosapian! You there with the carbon based anatomy. Oh drop that bloody knife I only wanted a chat, so stop getting defensive and lets talk about how awesome I am. Yeah, bet your life must be pretty depressing being a human and all, dont you wish you were more like me? Here, let me show you how well I can shred this guitar...' Ofc everyone is allowed their own interpretation, but to me it doesn't seem to quite fit.
I've got nothing against them taking multiple influences either, hell I relish in the world of avant-garde, it's just the manner they're used that annoys me. Used once or twice and then discarded like a cheap trick to break up an otherwise monotonous album, the tribal elements in particular lending a pleasant 'DeadCanDance' vibe but seem a little random; are aliens really invading tribal villages in the amazon? Or was it just used for the hell of it?
I've read other reviews and it makes me wonder if were listening to the same piece. It's made many an end of year list and racked up many fans for the band, but in case it wasn't abundantly clear, I don't get it and doubt I ever will. I must be missing something, and feel free to point it out for me, but it feels like little more than ambient for metalheads; for those unaware of the work since Brian Eno it might feel revelationary, but for the rest of us just seems lacking. Not necessarily bad, only lacklustre. Mediocre. Inconsistent. You keep your Cynic and i'll go listen to Chimp Spanner, Ayreon and Kalisia. There have been a number of sci-fi themed bands emerging of late and this hardly sounds like anything noteworthy to my ears. Bring on the hatemail!